Sister Death (2023)

Director: Paco Plaza

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Starring: Aria Bedmar, Almudena Amor, Maru Valdivielso, Luisa Merelas, Chelo Vivares, Consuelo Trujillo, Sara Roch, Olimpia Roch, Adriana Camarena, Marina Delgado, Claudia Fernández Arroyo

After a career which included directing 3 films in the [REC] series, Paco Plaza's acclaimed Veronica debuted on Netflix in 2017. Within the tale of a grief-stricken teenager who became possessed, advice regarding the supernatural was offered by a blind nun who students cruelly nicknamed "Sister Death." That cryptic figure is the basis for this prequel story set far before the original feature.

Spain, 1939. The film effectively opens with a wordless black-and-white sequence while the score delivers ethereal vocals, which accompany the creepy sight of a frightened group putting their hopes entirely on a young girl. The story cuts to a decade later where World War II may be over, although the effects linger much like the bullet holes sighted within a former convent's walls. Now a school for girls, Sister Narcisa (Aria Bedmar) arrives to become a teacher, although the passing days sees her tormented by increasingly disturbing and strange events connected to secrets buried within the convent.

Despite the story feeling unnecessarily connected to the 2017 feature, screenwriter Jorge Guerricaechevarría delivers a compelling study of the titular character aided by Bedmar's terrific performance. Considered a sign of hope as a child, Narcisa's reputation precedes her despite the woman carrying much self-doubt. Sacrificing the chance for a quiet life and experiences such as dancing at balls, she feels it is her duty to be what others see her as, believing the position can only be affirmed by a divine occurrence. Bedmar effectively captures this character who may not believe in herself, yet does whatever possible to help others in distress.

Throughout the swift 90-minute runtime, Plaza decently plays with atmosphere in ways that leave a game of hangman feeling foreboding. Unsettling shots and imagery lurk within the picture, although one wishes the feature delivered on the scares more often. The attempts at underlying creepiness can feel lacking, particularly when stronger examples from other films are brought to mind, however this stands tall amongst the competition of 2023 horror films about nuns.

Sister Death is available on Netflix now